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Realist who left behind a large salary for politics

Last week, under fire from the opposition, minister John Gormley finally announced that the Dublin Central by-election would be held on June 5. The first candidate to be announced was Fine Gael Senator Paschal Donohoe.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, he speaks frankly about his party's woeful electoral record, his leader's image problem, his run-in with Bertie Ahern's Drumcondra mafia in 2007, and says that if FG fails to win the next election, then the very existence of the party must be questioned.

He said Fine Gael must end its disastrous run in elections and become Fianna Fail-like in its approach to elections.

"If you lose three elections in a row, there is only one way to look at things. I think if we had, I think, pressed our case harder, we would have won one of those elections. We're close to being the worst-performing party in European politics.

"But we can seriously win the next election, we can obtain power. In 2002, it was very bad; in 2007 we ran out of gas and fell short in the end. We won't do that again."

A loyal Kenny-ite, Donohoe (34) is also very aware of his party leader's poor image. "I work closely with Enda Kenny. I see a very able, tough leader who dragged our party out of the doldrums and is the right man to drag this country out of the mess we are in, but I also see that that side of him hasn't really been seen by the public. I recognise that the good traits that we see every day for whatever reason aren't getting through."

Kenny surprised many and angered a few when he named Donohoe as chair for the committee on Lisbon, seen as a snub to Lucinda Creighton and Billy Timmins. Donohoe is unapologetic. "I'm not here to make up the numbers, I have risked a lot to do this and I want to make the most of it. First step is to get into the Dail."

A pro-business candidate, Donohoe failed to get elected to the Dail in 2007, but won a Senate seat. He left a senior post in Proctor & Gamble and a large salary to enter politics. Given the highly successful career he had in the UK, the decision to come home to a very uncertain future in politics has led many to ask why?

"I met my wife when I was working in the UK, and when we got married, I had said I wanted to move back home and I wanted to get into politics. We planned for it, we saved for it. It was a very tough decision for us both."

Donohoe said that experience, and seeing friends beside him in work being fired, gave him an understanding of what businesses in Ireland need from politicians.

"I have actually worked in the economy, when lots of people in politics are merely talking about it. That kind of experience or any appreciation of business is simply not there at government level. We need to have people in government who have that experience.

"There is a total absence of dynamism in Leinster House, including from some in my own party."

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He also has suggested radical reforms of how politics is this country is run.

"The system is too staid. Anyone lucky enough to be re-elected for a second term, under no circumstances should have a job waiting for them if things go wrong. There should be term limits for junior ministers. If you are good enough to be a junior minister for two terms, surely you're either good enough for the cabinet or your not."

He also wants to see all allowances for committee chairmen and convenors scrapped entirely.

Donohoe's chances of taking the seat are good. He says his best friend in politics is Brian Hayes, while the person he dislikes the most is former Taoiseach and constituency rival Bertie Ahern. Donohoe was targeted by the Drumconda mafia in the 2007 campaign."They were a machine. They went around the area telling people I wasn't ready for the Dail. They knew where my support was and targeted it. They canvassed my street three times in a week, and even tried to convince my wife to vote for them. But I take my hat off to them."

But Donohoe also realises the fate that awaits if he fails next month. "Here is how real it is for me. If I don't get into the Dail in this by-election, or the next general Election, I'm going to be unemployed. It gives me an urgency get things done. It's real. I don't have a teaching post to go back to like Micheal Martin. When I see people losing their jobs every day, I know what that's like. Very few inside Leinster House have any clue about that."

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